12/21/2023, 18.59
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Suez Canal, Houthi attacks, and the trade routes to Asia

For Singapore Port authorities, the situation is " unaffected " at present. About 12 per cent of world trade goes through the Red Sea, and only a few maritime firms have redirected their ships through the Cape of Good Hope. Meanwhile, on Weibo, a popular Chinese microblogging website, a military expert claims that the missiles used by the Iranian-backed Shia militia were developed from Chinese technology.

Singapore (AsiaNews) – The Port of Singapore is still “unaffected" by the situation in the Red Sea, even though many shipping companies have decided to stay clear of the Suez Canal following recent attacks against merchant ships by Iranian-backed Houthis, this according to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

If the disruption is protracted, all necessary support will be given to speed up the movement of goods transiting through Singapore, one of Asia’s main maritime hubs, the MPA said.

Starting last month, Houthis have increased their attacks in response to Israel's invasion of Gaza. The armed group is engaged in a conflict with Israel. On 19 November, the group seized a British-owned boat operated by NYK Line, which decided to stop shipping cargo to Israel.

Last week, several major shipping companies (Maersk, MSC, etc.) announced that they would bypass the Suez Canal and divert their ships to South Africa's Cape of Good Hope.

This would increase travel time by 10 to 20 days, or almost 40 per cent, for a ship journeying from Singapore to Rotterdam (Netherlands), one of Europe's major ports, resulting in higher transportation costs.

As a result, shipping rates have jumped 20 per cent in recent days; however, insurance costs for cargo ships using the Suez Canal have risen slightly.

For Peter Sand, an analyst at Xeneta, a Copenhagen-based market analytics platform, a single round-trip from Shanghai to Rotterdam can cost nearly a million dollars more in fuel.

During the first 13 days of this month, 170 vehicle carriers passed through the Red Sea, a drop of 17 per cent from the same period in November, indicates data from MarineTraffic, which monitors global shipping traffic.

Despite this, Houthi attacks could create a bottleneck in the Red Sea. But so far, the attacks have had a limited effect, noted Suez Canal Authority chairman Osama Rabie.

Ships that chose the Cape of Good Hope route after the first attack on 19 November represent about 3 per cent of the 2,128 ships that have passed through the Suez Canal, Rabie explained.

The Red Sea represents about 12 per cent of world trade, mainly crude oil and liquefied natural gas. If ship diversions continue, energy prices could rise in Europe.

In China, the crisis has started a debate, not so much over the slowdown in maritime trade, but for the technology used by the Houthis, which some say is Chinese.

A Chinese military blogger who goes by the name "Korolev," with more than 6 million followers on the microblogging app Weibo, stirred up a debate this week by suggesting that the Houthis might be using Chinese missile technology shared with Iran.

Houthis operate two types of large missile, the Asef and the Tankil, both likely modified from Iranian designs. Korolev claims that their earliest predecessor was China's Red Flag 2A surface-to-air missile, exported to Iran in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War.

Nothing, though, points to China directly transferring military technology to the Houthis.

In response to the attacks by the pro-Iranian militia, several countries (Great Britain, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, Spain) launched a military operation to patrol the southern reaches of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

For their part, to protect world trade, US and British warships already in the area have begun shooting down Houthi missiles.

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